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Joe Biden seeks to boost peace talks in Israel, settlements notwithstanding

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Monday after Israelis and Palestinians agreed to restart peace talks. But the issue of Israel settlements came to the fore again, with 112 new housing units announced for the West Bank.

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His visit is expected to deliver the message, “America understands your fear,” says Meir Javedanfar, an expert on Iran based in Tel Aviv. “It’s to show that Washington and Jerusalem are getting closer on the nuclear issue.”

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Anger that Obama himself hasn't visited

While Biden is the most senior member of the US administration to visit Israel, some here feel slighted that Obama himself has yet to visit – especially given his high-profile trip to Cairo last year.

“While we welcome Vice President Biden, as a longtime friend and supporter of Israel, we see it (as) nothing short of an insult that President Obama is not coming,” said Parliament Member Danny Danon – a member of Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party. “He is apparently unwilling to actually come and see firsthand the results of his disastrous policy of pressuring Israel into unilateral concessions to the Palestinians.”

Obama administration needs 'serious' results

Palestinian leaders aren’t happy either, and are expected to share with Biden during his West Bank visit their skepticism that the indirect peace talks expected to be renewed this week will produce results.

Palestinians supported President Abbas’s refusal to negotiate without a total settlement freeze. The announcement today by the Israeli Defense Ministry of additional homes in the settlement of Beitar Illit is likely to be interpreted as a sign of bad faith. Israel says that the homes, described as a safety measure to plug an alley between two buildings, were an exception to the 10-month moratorium agreed last fall.

The Palestinians will tell Biden that they have made good faith gestures like reining in militants and government reform, but that the Israel could do more on settlements, and lift movement restrictions. They’re also likely to stress that the talks need to show results in the four month trial period decided upon this week, said experts.

“Something serious must come out of it – and not going back to a peace process without an end,” says Hana Sinora, codirector of the Israel Palestinian Center for Research and Information. “If nothing happens, the credibility of the Obama administration will be completely shot.”

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